Student driver Austin Venturo, 16, practices parellel parking near the 911 school, while Emily Boatwright, 15, in back, awaits her turn. Peter Barrett, an Arlington police sergeant, is the instructor. (Steve Powell/Staff Photo)

Driving tips from a pro because M’ville needs them

MARYSVILLE – I was recently the victim of a hit and run near Pioneer Elementary.

A car backed into me, then passed a disabled car, with a passenger giving that driver a hand gesture as he sped away.

Not long ago, I also was hit when a woman drove through a four-way stop near Harborview.

There really are some bad drivers in Marysville. It seems like many basic driving laws are being ignored. Or maybe drivers don’t care because so little is done with traffic enforcement. Or maybe I was just wrong about the laws because it’s been 40 years since I took driver’s education in high school.

So I asked Peter Barrett to help me out. He is a sergeant in the Arlington Police Department, but he, along with Seth Kinney, a K9 officer with the APD, also own the 911 Driving School in Marysville.

Who better to remind us all of the laws we learned sometimes decades ago than someone who has taught thousands of kids the past five years? All of his instructors are current or retired officers from all over the area.

The best reminders I learned from Barrett is to “drive defensively” and “watch out for the other guy” because he or she may be doing some stupid, if not illegal.

He reminded me it’s better to let the other guy be wrong than for me to be right and get in an accident. That’s good advice.

Anyway, here are some frustrating things I’ve been seeing on the road lately.

1. More people are going over 5 miles above the speed limit.

Barrett said: On a freeway anyone going the speed limit should stay to the right. Anyone that wants to go faster can pass on the left but risks getting a ticket. Move back to the right lane after passing. Drivers should call 911 if they see aggressive and reckless drivers. If there is speeding in a neighborhood, at APD we will get e-mails and then do focus enforcement on that area.

2. People are following too closely.

Barrett: Drivers need to leave enough distance to not collide with the driver in front of you if they slow or stop. Recommendations are three seconds following distance in a city and four seconds on a freeway.

3. People go through red lights; if you’re not watching you could get hit.

Barrett: At 911 we preach that a green light means you have the right of way as a driver, but only when other drivers give it to you. You cannot just go when the light turns green. Responsible drivers scan both ways and make sure it’s clear.

4. Drivers are crossing double lines.

Barrett: You are not supposed to cross a double yellow line. However, you can if you are turning into a driveway. Drivers need to look at the flow of traffic and decide it may be smarter, faster and safer to make a U-Turn at the next light or take a different route.

5. Drivers are inconsistent about stopping for school buses.

Barrett: Drivers only need to stop for a school bus if they are going to be passing it directly next to them. On a two-lane road, you stop. On a road with a center turning lane, you only stop if you’re using the turning lane. With four lanes, no need to stop.

6. Nobody knows what to do at a four-way stop.

Barrett: Whoever arrives first should go first. If you arrive at the same time the car to the right goes. If you are turning and the car ahead of you is going straight then let the car go. My suggestion is when approaching a four-way stop adjust your speed so that you stop after the others. It eliminates the confusion of who goes first. Also, communicate by making eye contact, gesturing, smiling, waving or nodding.

7. How about texting or using your cell phone while driving?

Barrett: Use of handheld electronic devices is always illegal, even when stopped at a traffic light. I almost always write an infraction to those texting and driving. It is such a massive safety issue and nothing kills more of our teens than distracted driving.

8. Can’t you make a free right turn even if oncoming traffic has a green turn arrow because they are supposed to go into the nearest lane, leaving you the outside lane?

Barrett: Yes, it is illegal for drivers to move over during their turn into an outside lane without first completing their turn, then signaling. That said, it happens all the time. We teach our students to wait that extra 15 seconds to avoid a collision, even though the other driver would be “at-fault.”

9. Isn’t it smart if there is a free right turn for people to get in the left lane? That way people in the right lane can take a right turn and not tie up traffic and add to pollution and wasted gas and time.

Barrett: Any time traffic can be allowed to flow more easily at intersections where a large group of vehicles may share a lane for straight or free right turn it would always be preferable if those going straight could move into the left lane. That said, most cities, if the benefits are significant enough, will make those lanes right-turn only.

Emily Boatwright, 15, who is homeschooled, and Austin Venturo, 16, who attends Lakewood High School, are taking classes at 911. Emily said the biggest offense she sees while driving is people not coming to a complete stop.

Austin said he sees drivers going into the outside lane, rather than the one closest to them. He said it’s also hard “predicting the other drivers’ moves.”

Barrett said he most-often sees distracted drivers using cell phones, followed by impatient drivers, who follow too closely, fail to yield and make sudden turns.

He also said he hires only officers for a reason.

“We’re the ones at collisions who tell them how it could have been avoided,” Barrett said. “Rather than learning at the scene of a collision, learn from the experts who teach you right from the beginning.”

-Steve Powell is the managing editor of The Marysville Globe and The Arlington Times.

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